Arab Firm Buys Major U.S. Ports

Caught by surprise over the breadth of concerns expressed in the United States, Dubai is cautiously organizing its response. The company quietly dispatched advisers to reassure port officials along the East Coast, and its chief operating officer, internationally respected American shipping executive Edward "Ted" H. Bilkey, is expected to travel to Washington this week for meetings on Capitol Hill and elsewhere.

The Bush administration in recent days has defended its approval of the sale, and has resisted demands by Congress to reconsider. State Department spokesman Sean McCormack described the United Arab Emirates on Friday as a "long-standing friend and ally" and said the United States and UAE had a good relationship.

President Bush visited the seaport in Tampa, Fla., but did not mention the dispute Friday. The president said an important element of defeating terrorism was taking precautions domestically and working with local government officials.

"We've got to protect ourselves by doing smart things in America," Mr. Bush said. "I appreciate working with the mayors on homeland security issues."

CBS News reports that Baltimore Mayor O'Malley, who co-chairs the U.S. Conference of Mayors' Task Force on Homeland Security, is calling on President Bush to reverse the decision.

O'Malley on Saturday harshly criticized the president's approval of the ports deal as an "outrageous, reckless and irresponsible decision" and urged the White House to reconsider the sale. Baltimore is one of the affected ports. O'Malley also is running for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination in Maryland.

Dubai Ports World declined through a spokesman to respond to O'Malley's remarks.

In New York, families of some victims from the September 2001 terror attacks planned to criticize the deal during a press conference Sunday with Democratic Sen. Charles Schumer, a leading critic of the sale. Schumer said he is dubious any assurances can justify involvement by the United Arab Emirates in American ports.

Schumer and other critics have cited the UAE's history as an operational and financial base for the hijackers who carried out the attacks against New York and Washington.

"A lot of families are incensed by this, because you're talking about the safety of the country," said William Doyle, whose son Joseph died at the World Trade Center. "We have a problem already in our ports because all of our containers aren't checked, but now they want to add this unknown? It's not right."

LoBiondo's legislative proposal would amend federal maritime laws to require facility security officers, which operate at terminals in every U.S. port, to be American citizens. LoBiondo said there are presently no citizenship requirements, which he said permits foreign companies who are or become partners in domestic terminal operations to employ security officers who are not Americans.

"We cannot be lax about our nation's security nor fail to recognize that our ports are realistic targets of terrorists," LoBiondo said.